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In the bag

May 15, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

You say "po-tay-to," I say "pa-tat-tah,"

You say "to-may-to," I say "to-mat-tah."

How about apricots?

Webster's dictionary's pronunciation key lists the "short a" sound - like apple - before the "long a" sound - like ape.

But let's not call the whole thing off.

Whichever way you pronounce the name of the golden globes, they are tasty, and even in their dried form - especially in their dried form - apricots are good for you.

Dried apricots are one of the fruits on the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Top 10 list.

The only dried fruit to make it to the list of what's best for us, apricots are the most nutritious of dried fruits - more nutritious than dates, figs, raisins, says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Washington, D.C.-based organization.

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The deep orange fruit is high in carotenoids - substances that are not nutrients, but are necessary for human health. Dried apricots are rich in beta carotene, one of the phytochemicals considered helpful in preventing heart disease and cancer, McCoy says.

What else is good about apricots?

Dried apricots are an excellent source of vitamin A. A one-cup serving meets 100 percent of the required daily allowance.

They are a fair source of potassium, providing more than 60 percent of the amount you need every day.

This is good news for people using high blood pressure medications, which are diuretics and draw potassium from the body along with fluid.

Dried apricots meet about 40 percent of daily dietary fiber requirements, and more than 70 percent of the iron you need every day.

But man - or woman - or child should not live by dried apricots alone.

"The goal is to get a variety," Liebman says. Different fruits and vegetables have different nutritional qualities. Eating a variety - five to nine fruits and vegetables a day is what the experts recommend - helps to ensure that you've got your body's needs covered.

Does Lisa McCoy, a registered dietician at Washington County Health Department, see her clients - senior citizens, young families, college students - eating enough fruits and vegetables?

"No. A big no," she answers.

So, another good thing about dried apricots is their convenience and portability. They travel well.

A snack bag of dried apricots would fare far better in your purse all day than a pear, she notes. Her kids - ages 8, 12 and 14 - love them, she says.

Liebman cautions, however, that dried apricots do have some flaws. They are more dense in calories than their fresh relations.

A cup of dried apricots has 338 calories; one cup canned in heavy syrup - 222 calories; three medium fresh apricots have 55 calories, McCoy points out.

Also, dried apricots are more concentrated in sugar, McCoy says. Be aware that because they are sticky, they put you at risk for tooth decay.

But for snacking - a healthy snack, much healthier than candy or cookies - dried apricots are the right stuff, McCoy says.

Curried cod with apricots

Vegetable cooking spray

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup Chablis or other dry white wine

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed

1/4 teaspoon dried whole thyme

1 bay leaf

1 pound cod or other lean whitefish fillets

1/4 cup dried apricots, cut into thin strips

Coat a medium skillet with cooking spray; place over medium heat until hot. Add parsley, green onions and garlic; saut 2 minutes. Add wine and next 4 ingredients.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Add fish and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Turn fish over and cook 5 minutes more or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Keep fish warm on a serving platter. Add apricots to skillet; cook over high heat 2 minutes or until reduced to 3/4 cup. Discard bay leaf. Spoon over fish.

- From Chyrel's Kitchen, at linkline.com/personal/gingen/index.html.

The Web site is maintained as a hobby by Chyrel Lambert Owens, who lives on the central coast of California near Santa Barbara. "I love to cook and try new things and it just grew from there," she said in an e-mail. She thinks her friend posted the recipe on their message board.

Short history of the apricot

The wild ancestor of the apricot was discovered on the mountain slopes of China more about 4,000 years ago.

The Chinese considered the golden globes to have fertility-enhancing properties, according to information on the Web site of the Apricot Producers of California at www.apricotproducers.com/html/consumhis.htm.

Apricots were introduced in North America by Spanish explorers. California inherited the fruit planted "in the gardens of the Spanish missions."

The industry has changed. In the 1920s and '30s, 200,000 tons of California apricots were harvested for drying, says Bill Ferriera, president of the Modesto, Calif.-based Apricot Producers of California.

The amount dropped to about 6,000 tons in 2001, and projections for this year are less - about 5,000 tons, he says.

Why?

It's the economy - the world economy. The vast majority of dried apricots sold in the United States are imported from Turkey, costing about 50 cents a pound.

In California, the cost is $3 per pound, Ferriera says.

"The whole California apricot industry is in jeopardy," Ferriera says.

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